Prohibition part 1.

This might be an odd place to start a blog. I don’t care.  I started watching the Ken Burn’s  PBS Prohibition a few nights ago and a friend (Hey, Jill!) told me that she’d be excited to read what I thought.


America DRANK.
Physicians used to recommend whiskey and cider and rum and beer as “far better than water hauled from muddy rivers and stagnant pools”…and they probably weren’t wrong.  It took us a while to get clean water all figured out. We drank all the time and had a daily bell for “grog time” and celebrated everything with it, including public hangings.We celebrated public hanging. Yup.
In the 1800’s our distilled spirits got stronger and more readily available. WATCH THE FUCK OUT. Soon we as a nation were drunk AF.
Women, who depended on the men in their lives for an income, had no means fight this. There was no way out of bad marriage or way to take control of money or their own bodies. Men were drunk AF and women were just kinda fucked.
In the documentary, we’re still talking about white women. Drinking must have adversely affected free black women in the north but there’ not mention of it. One black man, Fredrick Douglas, has been quoted in the documentary as saying “Whiskey makes me feel like a president.” but he’ll soon join the Temperance & Abolitionist side of things. His hair looks great. When he joins the Temperance side of things we’ll get a second quote, his hair will be silver and it will still look great.
A few white Protestant men get together and create the Washingtonian Society. It’s men helping other men sign pledges and get sober. No church involved so clergy men are PISSED by the idea of men helping men without a kickback to God, so >they< get involved to clean the country of sin. Abolitionists join in and there are groups where Temperance and Abolitionists interests co-exist and overlap… but they’re about to be busy elsewhere.
America starts modest with the idea of temperance, but we’re Americans. We can’t help ourselves when we’re “helping ourselves”. Soon we’re over doing it. Did we say moderate intake? NOW its TOTAL Abstinence for all! Groups beget groups beget more off shoots and some groups make uniforms and special vests. We make our kids pledge and wear stupid sashes! Some groups form separate groups for Black Americans. Fredrick Douglas gets involved now with the temperance folks who cross over with abolitionists. This is pretty much the last we hear about black men and women in part one.
And there are WOMEN.

Women who’ve had no power are now getting involved in auxiliary organization. They’ve got a major stake in this and they have more time to organize (if their children are grown).
These women start getting pissed about how women are doing more of the organizing but not getting a voice in these groups. Susan B Anthony starts her own ALL WOMEN group.
I must interject, all WHITE protestant woman of a certain level of social class. Susan B. and Elizabeth Cady didn’t mean ALL women.

And we can’t stop being AMERICAN about this.
Did we said “chose total abstinence?” NOPE. We’re gonna try to outlaw the drink itself so no one can choose! Oh yeah, we’re also doing it for immigrant families and poor families. We ain’t gonna ASK them, we’re just gonna try and go for it. AMERICA.
Oregon goes DRY! Legally!
Americans start finding loopholes.
Smuggling! Charging for crackers but not the alcohol (we aren’t selling it!)! Medicinal Alcohol! Bootleggers…which I now know were individuals selling swigs from pint bottles hidden under their pant legs.
And then everything gets overshadowed by slavery, FINALLY!
When you’re at war you’re not going tell traumatized solders they can’t drink. The country starts to tax alcohol to keep paying for the war and everything else. Temperance get ignored. We could talk about the rest of the war but Ken Burns doesn’t because, well, he’s covered that before.
Civil War ends.

After the war we get tons of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Bohemia and more…because we have stuff to do but we don’t use slaves anymore and we’re still racist. Immigrants bring over their old ways, customs, drinking habits and food. We have always loved immigrants as much as we do now, so, that goes over well. There’s soon a German styled pub on every corner and we all live happily ever after.
Prohibition Part One then lists a crapload of German American brewers that remind me of my college days in Milwaukee. German Beer is BOOMING ( by 1870, 550million gallons!) and the Germans form a lobbying group and organization in which they communicate and note everything in German. That totally goes over great. That’s not gonna be a problem at all.
Hai, Temperance Ladies! Did we miss you? Well…

First there was Jane Trimble Thompson in Ohio who decided to get involve and take to the streets.
“Her Husband was not pleased. In fact, he was “properly alarmed at what he called a lot of tomfoolery. His wife reminded him that the men had been in the tomfoolery business for a long time, and remarked that ‘it might be God’s will that the women should now take a part.'”
But her passive aggressive Praying In The Way doesn’t last for long.
Oooooh. Francis Willard is HERE!

She’s a master strategist, writer,  lobbyist, and was quite likely queer…She forms the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Frances Willard gives women manuals to argue their husbands without bringing the wrath. She gets water fountains in cities! She helps street children and fallen women. She raises the age of consent.
She gets involved with teaching alcohol abstinence in public schools via textbooks with the help of Mary Hatchet Hunt. Wow! Not all those textbooks are accurate in regards to the effects of alcohol. Imagine that! What kinda America is that?!
These women learn how to influence school boards and their local officials. Willard is a powerhouse. The textbooks and teaching she changed affected kids of all races. And here is where I must point out that Frances is also an racist OTWF (Old Time White Feminist) who used to regularly clash with African-American journalist/anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells.
Ida B. Wells?

Ida B. Wells hasn’t been mentioned yet in the documentary….but when my fellow white American feminists were sharing photos of voting stickers being left on Susan B Anthony’s grave in this last election, WoC I follow were posting about Iba B. Wells in DROVES to offset and inform.
I hope we get Ida B Wells in later episodes. I suspect we won’t. Why not go read about her?
Despite all of this. America likes to drink.

 Saloons are essential for working men. Saloons are THE place to socialize away from work and home. It’s a place where immigrants can find people from the old country and connect to old rituals. Your bartender was your priest, your therapist, your law and order, your banker, your translator, your politician (that comes up later) and more. Your saloon is where all social events, and voting, and meetings go on.

As much as the saloons seemed like local places…they were all owned and licensed out by a handful of German breweries. Franchises owned by…let’s remember… GERMANS. RECENT IMMIGRANTS. THAT ALWAYS GOES WELL IN AMERICA

Saloons get more powerful and the saloon districts become dense, easy to spot, crime ridden area of major cities. It’s hard to make these areas safe because more and more saloon owners are also tied to (or are) local politicians.

Now drunkenness isn’t considered just a home issue, it’s also a city safety issue, and people are more and more aware that the politicians are involved. Well, in the country it’s still mostly an a home issue…Prohibition marks a huge divide in city vs country life and voting.

AWWW SHIT it’s Carrie Nation.


Carrie Nation has a sad history and it ends sad…but it’s also undeniably fun. I dunno if this is gonna be peak White Feminist time but it is Privilege Playhouse time.

Carrie Nation had tried peaceful marches and letters. Then GOD spoke to her.

Let’s stop a moment to appreciate that white-female, middle-to-upperclass, protestant, widowed, privilege plays a HUGE part in what is about to go down with Carrie. She’s gonna do stuff that any one of lesser social status, background, or race couldn’t. I used to think “The BALLS on that crazy woman.” I wasn’t being that unfair with crazy, Carrie was probably plagued with mental illness, her mother and daughter were, but her balls came from what I now believe to be a firm understanding of the ways she was untouchable.

Carrie Nation gathered rocks and bottles, wrapped them in paper so they wouldn’t look suspicious, walked into a saloon and said “Get outa the way, I don’t wanna strike you but imma break up this den of vice.” and then she started SMASHING SHIT. Windows. Mirrors. Bottles. She moved on and smashed MORE saloons.

She dared the sheriff to arrest her, he did not.


She commences to smashing MORE places. She gets arrested. It doesn’t stop. She sasses at people from behind bars. She gets out. She gets a hatchet (which becomes her symbol from then on) to smash more. Jailed and released. She travels and smashes more. She makes headlines all over the country.

“I tell you ladies, you don’t know how much joy you’ll have until you smash, smash, smash.” -Carrie
See?!?! That’s the fun. She’s FUCKING shit up. But it’s also her privilege which is getting people to step aside when she swings and let her out when she gets arrested. Of course people are scared of her but they’re also scared of what happens if they DO anything about her. The documentary doesn’t SAY that but what else could it be? She’s a land owning woman who ran a hotel and now she has a fucking hatchet and she keeps GETTING the chance to SMASH.

A governor implores her to stop and he tells her to know her womanly place. THAT DON’T WORK VERY WELL. That doesn’t work now, it didn’t work them. STOP IT.

She makes ALL the news, is a huge success (mostly with women) and probably gets some songs written about her. She gets an army of supporter and hits more places and a warehouse. SMASH SMASH SMASH. Jailed and released four times in a day.

SMASH SMASH SMASH. Legislation is made to slow HER down.

Eventually she and her movement does slow. Her momentum could not be replicated and it probably shouldn’t have been either…but it was a fun SMASH SMASH SMASH ride. She ends up a punchline in Vaudeville…only occasionally literally smashing things. Saloons keep an eye out for her.

Now comes the Anti-Saloon league.

Baptists, Methodists and Protestants join together in this one. We’ve got a group of religious men focused on getting rid of alcohol. No side politics. No trying to improve women’s lives in other ways. No other interests. . They are organised and want political retribution. They make alcohol a wedge issue. NOTHING ELSE.
Wayne Bidwell Wheeler(whose full name I use because CHECK OUT that middle name) was the driving force behind the Anti-Saloon league. He understood that he just needed to get a slim majority to change everything. He didn’t care about the middle ground. He fed off being divisive.
This overshadowed all the temperance movements connected to suffragettes.Oh NO! More immigrants come as America becomes an industrial powerhouse…and immigrants fill overcrowded slums.And so the Anti-Saloon league gets all fucking BENEVOLENT. Alcohol in the Temperance movement has always been blamed for jobs lost, life savings swallowed up, women being beaten up (and later city crime).  Prior to this point there wasn’t huge a class/lifestyle/religious difference between those who were joining the movement and those who were supposed to “be protected” by the movement.Now there’s a huge religious, ethnic, class gap. The Anti-Saloon League (and other temperance groups) start feeling like what they are doing to help immigrants and the working class. They don’t they ask the immigrants and working class what they want for a better life. No surprises here.The immigrants, including Irish, Catholic, Jewish, Asian (we see one photo of an Asian classroom) don’t WANT their alcohol taking away. The Anti-Saloon League does not care. They feel that they are protecting the immigrants from themselves and protecting everyone from the saloons/immigrants.


Adolphus Busch
Adolphus Busch was the German-born co-founder of Anheuser-Busch (with his father-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser)  and was one of our richest German immigrants. He’s reported to have been a hell of a philanthropist.

He also became one of the leaders of the “Wet” movement, for obvious reasons. He had presidental ties, he knew saloons and alcohol make the government money (remember in the Civil War when we started taxing alcohol? That’s a huge part of how the government is still getting by) ….Still, It’s kinda hard to take the moral ground with “we want to drink” and “I’d like to keep making good money.”  vs the passions and tales of woe from the “Dry” warriors.

Things were at a stalemate. Counties and states went dry, or didn’t, loop-holes were always found. A nation wide dry spell? UNPOSSIBLE. The Government Needs The Money.

16th Amendment: The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

FUCK! Watchout! Gamechanger! 16th amendment passes. We have income taxes! The government was no longer dependent on alcohol taxes. DAMN. And the Anti-Saloon League HELPED make that amendment happen.
The Anti_Saloon league had helped get one amendment through, now they wanted THEIR amendment. WCTU and the Anti-Saloon league join together. No longer was prohibition a state or county issue… THEY going NATION WIDE.

Now we’re in Washington. So Many Men In Hats WALKING QUICKLY.

The Prohibition folks needed to work quickly too, before the next census in 1920, because they couldn’t risk cities getting more representatives. They couldn’t risk THEY VERY PEOPLE THEY WANTED TO BENEVOLENTLY PROTECT having enough representation to stop them.

People on all sides of the government were backing prohibition. We had benevolent protectors of the poor. We had soon-to-be-Nazi-supporter industrialists like Henry Ford who don’t want any work hours lost to alcohol. Socialists thought alcohol was being used to control the masses. Booker T. Washington thought alcohol undermined black progress. Racists (and I’m gonna bet some of our suffragettes were part of this..and the KKK) cashed in on still popular racists ideas of sexualized black men becoming EVEN MORE dangerous/potent with drink. They didn’t want black men drinking or voting.

Temperance and Prohibition started being pointedly about controlling the vices of SOMEONE ELSE…but it wanted to be a nationwide ban. There’s a disconnnect there. If you’re controling someone else with a nationwide ban, it’s gonna affect you as well. Wheeler worked the wedge, he just wanted a majority and didn’t care about smoothing things over.

Political tomfoolery and bribery and secret stuff happen.

More than half of American states went dry. People didn’t freakout. It was hard to be PRO “let us all drink” when it was so easy to know someone who had had a life or home wrecked from drink. And people didn’t freakout because there were workarounds. >Saloons< were being targeted (and those lower classes of people who relied on saloons) not home use. We’ll get the alcohol away from THEM. We’ll be fine with OUR alcohol because WE can be trusted with alcohol. lalalalalalala

President Woodrow Wilson starts getting folks around him who make changes FOR Prohibition.  And then, mother fucking hell, it’s WWI.

How many times have I mentioned GERMAN IMMIGRANTS?!?! And now we’re at war?!

We ALL know American is extra shitty to immigrants at times of war. We didn’t START that in WWII with internment camps.

And then, mother fucking hell, it’s WWI.

This can’t be good for Germans in America.

Halt the Hun, Buy U.S. Government Bonds Third Liberty Loan, poster by Henry Patrick Raleigh, 1917-18. Offset lithograph.

Halt the Hun, Buy U.S. Government Bonds Third Liberty Loan, poster by Henry Patrick Raleigh, 1917-18. Offset lithograph.

The war, and the Anti-German propagandafrom our own country, is about to FUCK shit up for German Immigrants.

-Sauerkraut gets renamed Liberty Cabbage. (Ok, we all remember post 9/11 Freedom Fries…right?)
-Dachshunds were STONED TO DEATH. Take that in. Puppy Killing Rampages! (As far as I am concerned, all dachshunds, no matter what age, are puppies).
-School children destroy textbooks.
-“an Illinois mob lynched an American citizen whose only crime was speaking German over a neighbour’s fence”

Hold Up! I’m guessing we mean WHITE American Citizen because we were still lynching OTHER American citizens without much note at this time, right?

Wayne Bidwell Wheeler is ON it…calling out the Germany Enemies At Home like Pabts, Schiltz, Blatz and Miller. BEER IS TREASON!


Wayne Bidwell Wheeler is also pulling strings. First they took the grains away from breweries…you know….for the war. NOTHING PERSONAL. They couldn’t brew without grains. Americans started feeling the affects personally.

A push for an amendment comes. Wets tried limiting the amendment by placing limits on how quickly states would have to ratify the amendment. The Dries agreed. The Anti-Saloon League had 84 months to convince 5,000 legislators in 36 state to ratify the amendment. The “Wets” thought this wouldn’t happen.


They did it in 13 months.

January 16, 1919. The 36th state ratifies it and we’ve got a year before it goes into affect.

A folksy man whistles as we see photos of men toasting and signs coming down.

January 20th, 1920 and all our dry warriors came together at a church to give speeches to each other and feel all warm and glowing in how they changed the country for the better. Oh the fire of the self righteous. The Absolute Shall WAS.

And on that same night in Chicago?  Churchs? Nope. Chicago was robbing and looting government warehouses and remaining trucks of liquor.

The saloons and the breweries closed, thousands of immigrants lost jobs in those locations and along transportation, bottling and everything else connected.

Dry Americans thought things would be ok…they’d done what was best for the country, hadn’t they?

Thus ends the first episode.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s